California Bike Helmet Laws: Is a Bicycle Helmet Required in California?

Bike helmets are designed to protect your head in the event of a crash. This is crucial for preventing or minimizing brain injury. However, some people argue that bike helmets don’t make a difference or are too uncomfortable to wear.

It’s true, bicycle helmets may not always be the most comfortable thing to wear when you’re out and about cycling. But research shows that they reduce the risk of death by up to 85% and the risk of serious injury by up to 88%. Here is how this affects you and why you should still wear one even if it’s not required by law in California.


Bike helmets are a mainstay in public safety, especially in California. In California, it’s actually illegal to ride a bicycle without a helmet. It’s also recommended to wear one at all times. That said, we’re all individuals and it’s important to keep things in perspective.

According to the most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, bike helmet use is still relatively low. While it’s legal to ride without one in California, it’s still not recommended because it can increase the risk of serious injury or death in the event of a crash.

How helmets work

In the event of a bike crash, a skull is being propelled from the top to the bottom of your head, just like a pop can be shaken up and down. However, with a bike helmet on, your skull is no longer jolted by a dramatic but short and powerful shock.

Instead, the impact of the crash is absorbed by the layers of soft tissue inside your head. In other words, a crash occurs at a relatively slow speed that causes the brain to hit the frontal bone at the top of your head, effectively cushioning it.

This is why when a crash occurs, it causes your brain to bounce back to the top of your head. Your brain doesn’t have time to bounce off and get a very painful and traumatic injury.

Is a Bicycle Helmet Required in California?

Why helmets are important

A 2017 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that if not wearing a helmet changes the rate of cycling-related head injury by 5%, the benefit of this is that approximately 1.6 additional deaths could be prevented per year.

You’re still more likely to have a serious injury if you are wearing a helmet, but you are still significantly less likely to have a serious injury than if you are not wearing one. This study was based on over 3.4 million cyclists and shows that wearing a bicycle helmet in California has the potential to save more than 10,000 lives each year and prevent over 38,000 serious head injuries each year.

The benefits are also significantly greater in areas of California where it is required by law for bicyclists to wear a helmet.

Is a helmet required in California?

The answer is that it depends on the age of the bike rider. California requires that anyone under 18 wear a helmet either as a rider or passenger.

However, every adult has freedom for what kind of safety equipment they use when biking. Adults are expected to know their limitations and abilities, so it’s totally up to their choice whether they want to wear helmets or any other safety equipment or not. Adults are free to ride without a helmet if they don’t feel it is necessary to do so.

There are some exceptional cases where helmets aren’t required by law: children biking within a block of their home and bicycling on private property, such as a person’s backyard.

Do cyclists need to obey traffic laws?

Cyclists must obey traffic laws like all other vehicles when riding on a roadway or shoulder. It means that riders have the same rights and responsibilities as those held by drivers of motorized vehicles. So you need to obey traffic signs and signals, signaling turns/lane changes, following distance behind the vehicle in front of them, yielding the right-of-way when entering a roadway from a driveway or private road, etc.

But cyclists also have additional requirements since they are going slower than cars. Bicyclists must ride as far to the right side of the road except when passing another vehicle going in the same direction, preparing for a left turn, avoiding unsafe conditions, or when the lane is too narrow to share with another vehicle. Bicyclists cannot attach themselves to any other vehicle on the roadway except when starting/stopping or riding within a bike lane.

People biking must signal turns, but they are only required to do so if it doesn’t obstruct their balance or hands are needed for safety reasons.

They need to give hand signals of intention 12 seconds before the turn and keep doing so until they go through the intersection or exit.

At night bicyclists should use front and rear lights when traveling on a highway without a sidewalk unless there’s an all-weather surface like concrete or asphalt. When riding at night, cyclists need to have mounted white light on the front of the bike visible from 300 feet away and a red reflector visible from 600 feet away in the rear.

The law states that every vehicle on a road or highway must equip with a brake that will enable such person to make one braked wheel skid on the dry, level, and clean pavement; bicycles do not need any brakes since they’re not considered as vehicles.

But some have coaster brakes, caliper brakes, or other similar stopping mechanisms so the rider can stop the bike without pedaling backward. It practically means that all bikes need some braking system, even if it’s just a way to slow down the bike from modest speeds without pedaling back.

Is it legal to ride on the sidewalk in California?

Riding on the sidewalk is legal, but biking on the sidewalk isn’t allowed in downtown areas, where bikes need to share the lane with cars and follow the same traffic laws.

In California, local jurisdictions can create their own rules about riding on sidewalks. So cities and counties have the power to make certain roads where sidewalk bicycling is illegal or requires special permits to operate a vehicle on those roadways.

When biking on a sidewalk, cyclists must yield to pedestrians; they should move slower than usual and give a chance for people to pass before riding again. In addition, when passing a pedestrian directly, bicyclists should ensure that these people don’t need to change their route because of them (no interference).

They also may not bike faster than what would feel comfortable for an average walking at that place. Yielding right-of-way to pedestrians is very important since some walkers may not be able to see bicycles coming up behind them.


It’s obvious that not wearing a bike helmet can result in injury or even death. Using a helmet when you ride a bike reduces the chances of injury to your head and brain and also reduces the risk of brain injury in a crash.

Many studies show that even a helmet that isn’t mandatory to wear can greatly reduce the chances of head and brain injury and death from a crash. Your head is very vulnerable to the motions of cycling, so it’s a good idea to wear a helmet even if you don’t have to.

Should I wear a helmet when I ride my bike? It depends. Whether you should wear a helmet when you ride a bike depends on how old you are, your level of experience, your weight and height, and the type of bike you ride.

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